A millennial woman is preparing the shipment of some clothes in her new online shop


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Thrift stores are a great option for buying used or secondhand items for cheap. But what about consignment shops? While both are popular options for people looking to buy or sell used items, there are some key differences between the two. We'll walk you through what a consignment shop is, how it differs from a thrift store, and whether it's worth using one to sell or buy secondhand goods.

What Is a Consignment Shop, and How Did It Originate?

A consignment shop is a type of retail store that sells used items on behalf of the original owner. The owner of the item (typically called the consignor) brings the item to the shop and agrees to let the shop sell it for a certain price. When the item sells, the shop takes a percentage of the sale price as commission, and the rest goes to the consignor.

The word "consignment" derives from the French word "consigner," which means "to seal, register" or "to mark with a sign." The term was originally used in the legal world, where it referred to the act of delivering one's possessions to another for safekeeping or for sale. In the 1950s, the consignment model was established to help wealthy elite acquire and exchange vintage couture clothing. Over time, the term began to be used more broadly to refer to any situation in which one person entrusts their property to another for a specific purpose, such as selling it on their behalf. 

Consignment shops typically specialize in higher-end items such as designer clothing, jewelry, and accessories, but they may also sell larger items such as furniture, appliances, and home decor. Because consignors often have a vested interest in selling their items for as much as possible, consignment shops tend to price items higher than thrift stores.

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Interior Of Charity Shop Or Thrift Store Selling Used And Sustainable Clothing And Household GoodsPhoto credit: Daisy-Daisy/istockphoto

Consignment Shop vs. Thrift Store

The main difference between consignment shops and thrift stores is the way they acquire their merchandise. Consignment shops sell items on behalf of the owner, while thrift stores take ownership of all the items they sell — a large portion of which comes from donations. This means that consignment shops tend to have a higher quality of merchandise, and may be more specialized in the types of items they sell.

Another difference between the two is pricing. Because consignment shops are selling items on behalf of the owner or consignor, the shop has a financial interest in selling the item for as much as possible. This means that consignment shops tend to price items higher than thrift stores, which rely heavily on donation-based items and generally have more flexibility in pricing.

Lastly, consignment shops and thrift stores may differ in the markets they target. Some consignment stores, such as luxury consigners, often specialize in higher-end items and may serve as niche shopping destinations for people looking for specific designer clothing, jewelry, and accessories. Thrift stores, on the other hand, appeal to a wider range of people who are looking for bargain deals on items. 

Young woman looking at price tag while shoppingPhoto credit: Su Arslanoglu/istockphoto

The Advantages of Using a Consignment Shop Over a Thrift Store

Selling your used goods can be a great way to declutter your home, get ready for spring cleaning, and make some extra cash. While thrift stores and consignment shops both offer options for selling goods, consignment shops offer several advantages over thrift stores, including:

  • Higher potential earnings: Since consignment shops price items based on their value, you'll likely get more money for your items than if you sold them to a thrift store. 
  • Professional display: The staff at consignment shops will typically display items in a way that will maximize their appeal to potential buyers.
  • More selective inventory: Consignment shops often have a more curated inventory, meaning they may only accept items that are in excellent condition and meet certain style or quality standards. This can result in a higher quality of merchandise in the store, which may appeal to more discerning shoppers who are looking for something specific. 
  • Less work: When you sell your items at a consignment shop, you don't have to worry about advertising or finding buyers yourself in the way that you might when using a platform like Facebook Marketplace. You simply drop off your items and let the shop's staff take care of the rest. 

Sustainable shoppingPhoto credit: svetikd/istockphoto

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the choice between buying or shopping at a consignment shop versus a thrift store will depend on your personal preferences and priorities. If you have high-quality items to sell and want to maximize your earnings, a consignment shop may be the better option for you. If you're looking to get rid of a wider variety of items, a thrift store may be the way to go. In any case, both options offer a sustainable and cost-effective way to buy and sell used goods.

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